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Mother's Day holds special significance for Senators

Goalie Craig Anderson, forward Bobby Ryan reflect on relationships bigger than hockey

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- There they were in the stands at PPG Paints Arena for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final: Nicholle Anderson, the wife of Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, and their sons, Jake and Levi. It was a picture of family happiness and support, one that was to be celebrated after a year when Nicholle went through treatments for cancer, much of the time with Craig at her side.

This time she got to support him when he played against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday, one day before he got to celebrate her on Mother's Day.

"It was exciting," Craig Anderson said. "They bring definitely an X-factor to the game for me. It's an exciting time. I hadn't seen the kids in a while, they hadn't seen me play in a while, obviously on TV, but to be there live again was great for them. Just exciting."

 

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Though he demurred, saying that Mother's Day was always special, that there was no particular significance to this Mother's Day, it was clear that this year's is not just another day.

"I think it's widely recognized as a pretty big day for most," Anderson said. "We wouldn't be here [if not] for our mothers. I know my kids wouldn't be the same without their mother. It's definitely a special day for everybody."

But more special for some.

"Obviously in his case, what we saw throughout the year is his ability to focus is unbelievable," coach Guy Boucher said of Anderson, who spent much of the season away from the Senators to be with Nicholle while she had treatment for throat cancer. "To be able to go from one reality to another and perform is very tough to do. It's not just his character -- we talk about his character -- but it's more than that; it's the ability to focus and refocus. Obviously when you're a goaltender at this level, that's usually your biggest asset. He's displayed it now, not just in terms of hockey but in terms of his personal life too."

Video: OTT@BOS, Gm6: Nicholle Anderson cheers on her husband

The Senators have gone through a lot of turmoil this season. They've endured personal and professional trials, something Boucher mentioned Saturday after Bobby Ryan scored in overtime to give Ottawa a 2-1 win in Game 1, alluding to the death of Ryan's mother last summer when discussing the rocky regular season he experienced.

That has brought them together.

They have watched each other go through the tough times, have supported each other and have delighted in the places they have gone as a team, as evidenced by Ryan's reaction to the way that Anderson has played amid the difficulties.

"It's hard to describe, isn't it?" Ryan said. "Everything that's been thrown on him and his family this year, it's remarkable. I don't know what word's left to use to describe it. He's playing like a man possessed right now. He's given us a chance every night, and he's stealing them for us. He's winning us games. He's been our MVP. You look at what [defenseman Erik Karlsson] does as well, but [Anderson's] the guy back there doing it for us."

And, as Ryan added later, "It's a special day for him, absolutely."

But Anderson isn't the only Senator for whom Mother's Day has special significance. For Ryan, who has turned his season around with a strong performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there is something more poignant about this Mother's Day. It is the first without his mother, Melody Stevenson, who died of liver cancer last July.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Ryan roofs game-winning goal in OT

It is also the first for his wife, Danielle, with their daughter, Riley.

"It's almost poetic," Ryan said. "It's my first without being able to text my mom, but I woke up this morning and was able to text my wife because it was hers. You take the good with the bad on days like today."

Ryan had a close relationship with his mother, given the unusual circumstances of his childhood, when his family fled New Jersey for California after his father was arrested for assaulting his mother. In 2000, when Ryan was 12, his father was found and sent to prison, leaving Bobby and Melody on their own.

"With the circumstances of my childhood, there were a lot of ways my life could have gone," Ryan wrote in an open letter to his mother for The Players' Tribune last summer after her death. "There were a lot of times when I could have [messed] up or strayed in the wrong direction. But instead I've realized all of my dreams. Every single one. And it was all because of you."

So while the Senators spend the day off the ice, getting ready for Game 2 against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), there is a broader meaning behind this off day in the middle of the Eastern Conference Final.

There is more than just the game, as it should be.

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